By: Michelle Berg
For those that know me well, I am stubborn. I am tenacious, resilient and occasionally bullheaded. I’m known to develop and also drop a grudge in the same day. But if I believe something at my core, you’re very rarely going to change my mind.
Enter Jake Stika.
Jake, is a giant of a man. His heart is pure gold, his hustle is like no other, and he pretty much has more air miles than any other human I know. Jake is the Executive Director of Next Gen Men and happened to be in an ATB Project X Cohort I spoke at back in 2016. My presentation was a “Choose Your own Adventure” (due to the fact that I did not have time to prepare in advance…my not-so-secret go to move). Jake was the first to ask a question…and then just didn’t stop. I was intrigued, he made me feel good about what I did and gave me a few other ideas to explore (aka a book along the lines of HR for Start-Ups, which is now finally under way!)
Next Gen Men is a Canadian non-profit organization aimed at engaging, educating and empowering men and boys around gender and what it means to be a man in today’s world (spoiler alert: there is no one singular definition and that’s what is so awesome about Jake). Jake claims that traditional ideas of his gender set him and his peers up for failure and if he wanted to change it, he had to be the change. (Okay – the quote is from Gandhi, but you get the idea!)
I have always been intrigued and highly supportive of Jake and Next Gen Men…sort of. Fast forward a few months after our first 1:1 when Jake asked for a donation for a Stampede campaign. It was a booth that people could walk into and hear what a woman hears during Stampede (basically, catcalling on a constant loop, designed to build an empathetic experience for listeners). And I said…”No…didn’t feel right”. You see, I was worried what my oil and gas clients would say if they thought I was too “into” diversity and inclusion. “Catcalling isn’t all that bad,” I joked…At least I still got it, right?!” I also gave advice to several women that year to just deal with it and let it be. This was 2016. I. Was. Gross.
Not 3 months later, I fired a client because of several indecent proposals that I had put up with for a year. I remember looking at my husband and said, “I’m too old for this shit and I can’t be okay with this anymore.” It was at that moment that I realized what Jake was doing was so important. It might not get better for me, but my Madeline deserves to grow up in a better world.
Then the #metoo campaign hit. We were bombarded by male clients saying, “I’m not going to take women out for lunch anymore” or “I don’t want to be in a 1:1 with women anymore. Can you be there too?” I was dumbfounded. And again, that’s when I realized that why Next Gen Men is so important. *Bonus* – Want to know my answer in these situations? “You’ll be fine if you trust yourself. Just don’t talk about your sex life, your dick or their sex life. Pretty simple.”
From their school programs to their Wolf Pack community meetings to their Equity Leaders corporate offerings (I’ve brought Jake in to do diversity and inclusion training for our clients as well, so I know he’s good) Next Gen Men is making a difference and it’s imperative we keep having these conversations. I’ve always considered myself a strong female advocate because I hold my own and can own the boardroom table when needed. But that’s not what I was doing at all. I was actually holding women back. What I know now is that ignoring the conversation means I am hurting not just us – but men as well.
That’s why we’ve chosen to support Next Gen Men through their patron program. $2 – $5 a month makes a difference, while $10 a month fully funds a young man’s participation in a program promoting positive masculinities, healthy relationships and gender equity…which at the end of the day makes our future workplace experiences that much safer, healthier and of course even more equitable.
Thank you Jake and the team at Next Gen Men. You’ve changed my mind and I will now commit to having the conversation, stand up for what I believe in and challenge the status quo – even if it means losing a client or two!
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